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The impact of the Digital Critical Friends Programme on education

News Published on 04 April 2024

The Digital Critical Friends programme was established by ScotlandIS to address the skills gap in technology and challenge the issue of school pupils dropping computer science as a subject, at a time where one in ten jobs in Scotland is in technology. Experts from digital technology backgrounds are being encouraged to share their knowledge in schools, to highlight the importance and opportunities within this sector.

PDMS is very supportive of initiatives like this which help to inspire the next generation, and encourages employees to participate and share knowledge, like Fiona Anderson who visited St Margaret’s School in Glasgow last year, to share her experience of working in tech.  More recently, one of our Business Analysts, Claire Welsh, visited St Margaret’s School to offer her expertise and widen the knowledge of their students in relation to different areas of technology.  To prepare for the session, Claire spent time structuring a lecture specifically directed at school pupils, to capture their interest. The session itself lasted around one and a half hours, which was timed between classes, primarily engaging with students who are enthusiastic about technology, with many of them involved in tech-related clubs.

The process which led to Claire’s interaction with the pupils

Claire was very keen to get involved and expressed her interest in the programme and applied through ScotlandIS’ online application system, who then matched her with a local school. She was then prompted to apply for her PVG (Protecting Vulnerable Groups) which is a scheme managed by Disclosure Scotland to ensure people are suitable to work with vulnerable groups such as children and protected adults. After a thorough security check, a certificate was generated and presented to Claire, which then allowed her to proceed with the application.

She then reached out to the technology department teacher to collaborate on planning the presentations, discussing suitable approaches, and engaging activities for the students, conscious her presentation should be from a different angle than Fiona’s.  She initiated the presentation by introducing herself and her role at PDMS, showcasing images of the THEMIS team and highlighting gender diversity, which she felt particularly relevant as many of the students belong to a girls’ tech club. She explained her process: outlining project requirements, followed by collaborative wireframing, prototype creation by designers, development, and then the testing phase.

With the assistance from the class teacher, Claire guided the students in setting up Balsamiq, a tool utilised for creating wireframes.  Following this, she conducted a brief workshop, ensuring everyone was logged in and understood the objectives. She presented a few website ideas for inspiration, encouraging students to explore their own concepts and offering assistance if required. The session resulted in a wide range of projects, from websites dedicated to facts about penguins, and even an event site documenting the recent Willy Wonka ‘experience’ in Glasgow.  Despite them being S1 students, aged from 12 to 13yrs old, they all demonstrated unique creativity, with one particularly talented boy, who had previously designed his own website, creating games and coding independently.

Time constraints and commitment to the project

Support was readily available throughout the programme, offering assistance or guidance. As a STEM ambassador, Claire had access to a wealth of resources but opted to pursue her own path, focusing on wireframing for her project. The only challenge she sometimes experienced was finding the time around work commitments to focus on her presentation, and she also found it difficult to know how much detail to include in the presentation, to avoid confusing the young students. 

Claire admitted that when she was a pupil herself in school, she hadn't been aware of tech-related roles, they didn’t seem to exist, especially for women. She is now passionate about sharing her knowledge of the tech industry with schools, empowering students to make informed choices about their future paths. Technology offers a myriad of possibilities, making it an invaluable and interesting topic to discuss, and by introducing it to them at this young age, hopefully enables them to develop an interest in something which might be otherwise unfamiliar to them.

Assessing the value of introducing tech skills in schools

As it currently stands, figures show that tech businesses in Scotland are facing ongoing challenges with 23% alluding to a lack of basic skills within their workforce, and 37% concerned about a lack of advanced digital skills.  It’s becoming increasingly difficult for  organisations to recruit with the ever increasing shortage of skills.  ScotlandIS is aiming to educate young people and inspire them to consider technology as a role in the future.

It was clear from the responses, the session with the school was a success, and Claire commented:

I was conscious of not making the session too intense, especially given their age, and their potential lack of familiarity with tools like Balsamiq and limited understanding of wireframing. However, the experience was well received, and despite these considerations, they appeared to thoroughly enjoy the session, with questions from eager students asking when I would be returning with another workshop.”

Eddie Walsh, PT(PEF) STEM – Digital Learning at St Margarets High School added:

Thanks so much Claire, they loved it.  They all wanted photographs of their work to show their parents and have now set up their own Balsamiq accounts too. Always happy to have you back.”

To find out more about the Digital Critical Friends Programme, visit the ScotlandIS website here.


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